Colts face defending state champ in Girard College
TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO Marian's Ryan Gimbi and the Colts take on Girard College in the PIAA Class A Boys second round at the Geigle Complex in Reading tonight.
Marian is coming off what was arguably its best all-around performance of the season.
It will probably need to improve on that effort if its hopes to keep on playing beyond tonight.
In its PIAA State Tournament opener last Friday, the Colts played an almost perfect first half, built a 30-point lead after three quarters, and coasted to a 59-44 victory over a Millville team that had lost just four times in 25 previous games.
Marian's reward for that impressive performance?
A date with defending PIAA Class A State Champion Girard College.
Girard enters the game with a 21-7 record that is far more impressive than it looks. In Girard's 21 victories this season, its average margin of victory has been 25.1 points.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers might play a tougher schedule than any Class A team in the state. Their losses this year have come at the hands of Class 4A powers Harrisburg (76-74), Pocono Mountain East (64-61), and Roman Catholic (66-63); District 1 Class 3A champion Holy Ghost Prep (43-29); and state qualifiers Strawberry Mansion (74-72), Devon Prep (65-64) and School of Church Farm (61-44). Strawberry Mansion and Devon Prep are Class 2A schools while School of Church Farm is a Class A team.
Girard had a perfect 12-0 record to capture the regular season title of the Bicentennial League and strung together victories over Calvary Baptist, Philadelphia Montgomery Christian and School of Church Farm to win the District 1 Class A title.
"Girard is a very impressive team. It's going to take a huge effort on our part to beat them," said Marian coach Mick Stefanek. "They are at a different level then the other teams we've played this season. They are extremely quick and explosive and can put points on the board in a hurry."
Girard's starting lineup features two Division I college recruits.
John Johnson, a junior guard, has already verbally committed to Pitt while senior guard Torrell Candeleria is being looked at by a number of Patriot League schools.
"They have two very talented players in Johnson and Candeleria and some very solid complimentary players around them," said Stefanek. "Johnson is really tough off the dribble. He likes to slash and get to the basket. But if you play off of him, he's a dangerous jump shooter as well. Candeleria is their top three-point shooter. He can really light it up from outside. They are about as talented a combination of guards as you will see at this level."
Marian (23-5) enters the game unbeaten against Class A teams this season. The Colts' losses have come to Class AAA opponents Pottsville, Panther Valley and Jim Thorpe (twice) along with Class AA Wilkes-Barre Myers. Marian is 17-0 this season against Class A opposition.
Behind the scoring of Matt Yaich and Chris Barletta, the tough defense of Drew Sherkness, and solid contributions from Cody Decker, Tommy Gottstein and Ryan Gimbi, Marian has won its four District/State playoff games by an average of almost 17 points.
"We're playing good ball right now," said Stefanek. "We getting solid contributions up and down our lineup. This is a huge challenge, but we're looking forward to it."
Stefanek said he sees two keys for the Colts.
"First, we have to be able to handle their pressure," he said. "Girard likes to pressure you both fullcourt and halfcourt. They get a lot of points off their defense. We can't let them rattle us.
"Second, we can't let them get out in transition. They love to push the pace and go up and down the court. We need to make it a halfcourt game."
If the Colts can succeed in achieving those goals, Stefanek thinks it could be an interesting game.
"We need to play our best and have some good things happen for us," he said. "Girard is a great team, but our kids are playing with a lot of confidence. We're not going to be intimidated.
"We're going to go out, give them our best shot, and see what happens."